Even more than in Paris, je t'aime and New York, I Love You, this latest omnibus in producer Emmanuel Benbihy's "Cities of Love" franchise might leave viewers wondering whether these needed to be set in Rio de Janeiro at all. Paolo Sorrentino's black-comic contribution could take place anywhere, really, with nothing gained by setting its nasty punchline on a Rio beach beyond pretty scenery. Same with John Turturro's end-of-relationship lament, which risibly turns into a sleek Vanessa Paradis music video, and Guillermo Arriaga's tale of a one-armed boxer's attempted redemption, which, perversely, has no ending.
Two of the better shorts thrive on visual dazzle alone: Fernando Meirelles stages an amusing, wordless ballet of feet and sand sculptures, while professional ballet dancers figure into Carlos Saldanha's entrancing combination of shadow play and relationship drama. But even the more Rio-specific ones are dire: Stephan Elliott's showbiz lark with Ryan Kwanten and his chauffeur finding an angel atop Sugarloaf Mountain; Im Sang-soo's ridiculous tale of vampire butlers and hookers; and Nadine Labaki's offensive extended joke, with Harvey Keitel in tow, about a kid who claims Jesus is calling him on a pay phone.
Leave it to two Brazilian filmmakers to reveal the touristic gaze of the rest of this barrel-scraping collective project. Andrucha Waddington addresses Rio's homeless problem, albeit by finding a dubious romanticism in a grandmother's (Fernanda Montenegro) deliberate homelessness. More bracingly, José Padilha ends his otherwise ethereal short by having his hang-glider rant at the Christ the Redeemer statue about the social injustices going on in the streets.